I Need More Time to Think

Until September this year, I only thought about digital technologies in simple, practical terms: do I want it, do I need it, can I afford it, will it make some part, any part, of my life easier, better, or more fun. And I have found answers to those questions relatively easily, although at times not without frustration. I have decided against some technologies not necessarily because of the technology itself, but because of the terms under which I would be allowed to use it. Others I have chosen to use gladly, fully appreciating the benefits they bring to my work or personal life.

Then, as part of the “Awakening the Digital Imagination” seminar series, I started reading scholarly articles and book excerpts about different aspects of digital technologies and their ever-increasing role in our lives and education, and engaging in discussions with a somewhat random (but thoughtfully assembled) group of people whose different perspectives have challenged many of my pervious assumptions. Or prompted me to contemplate questions I have never given any thought to before.

Now I have a bunch of notes, quotes, questions and unfinished thoughts, some on pieces of paper floating around in my house, in my car, or on my desk at work; some in emails; some scribbled (in pencil, of course) on the margins of our book, or on printed versions of the articles. I need to make sense of them somehow, internalize them further, digest them, to crystalize and organize the thought fragments that are swirling around in my head. But I don’t have time.

So for now I’m just going to toss some of them out here, without any kind of organization, commentary or proper referencing. These are bits and pieces that grabbed my attention for one reason or another in our readings and during our discussions:

It is only very recently that the ability to forget has become a prized skill.

Our cultural concept of education and knowledge is based upon the idea of building something up from a ground, from zero, and starting piece by piece to put things together, to construct edifices. […] Scientists always marvel at nature, at how it seems to be some grand code, with a built-in sense of purpose. Discoveries are made which reveal that more and more things are related, connected. Everything appears to be aware of itself and everything else, all fitting into an interlocking whole.

program or be programmed

everything is interesting until it’s ruined for us

exclusivity of access the book afforded vs relative democratization of access

technology is not value neutral

difference between tool and idea

corrupting power of consumer

tribal / collective consciousness

New technology possesses the power to hypnotize because it isolates the senses … renders those most deeply immersed in a revolution the least aware of its dynamic

…the public became patron

the social cost of planned obsolescence

people can no longer tolerate the boring bits of conversation … especially when talking about things that are complicated and hard  … being bored never has to be tolerated; must always be stimulated

mediated existence — capture event to post on facebook… I share therefore I am

presence of another person inhibits the worst in us… anonymity disinhibits us

moments of more and lives of less

capacity for solitude — if you don’t learn how to be alone, you will only know how to be lonely 

technological affordance vs human vulnerability

the sweetness of something new coming in on the phone — not knowing what’s coming

we are not as strong as technology’s pull

neurochemical hit of constant connection

need and ability for discernment

good – intentional – appropriate – consistent

relationship of beauty and pleasure to duration in time

If the criminal appears as a nonconformist who is unable to meet the demand of technology that we behave in uniform and continuous patterns, literate man is quite inclined to see others who cannot conform as somewhat pathetic.

education/learning is community-based … happens in context

Why not blog about it?

“Life without editing, it seems, is just not that interesting” – Bill Viola

For many weeks now I have been contemplating the challenge (sometimes desire, sometimes expectation) to blog and my very ambivalent feelings about it. I cannot easily overcome nearly 40 years of training, first imposed by my parents then embraced as a value I wish to uphold, of trying not to speak when I don’t have anything to say. I have heard, read and considered many opinions about blogging, including those of my boss, some trusted friends, colleagues, fellow explorers of the digital imagination, and Andrew Sullivan in the The Atlantic. I have greatly enjoyed reading some blogs by people I know as well as blogs of strangers on all sorts of topics, but I’ve also been annoyed by what I perceive as clutter if not trash that I often have to cut through to get to the good stuff.

I fought for weeks with the excerpts we read from Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, at times wanting to write a scathing blog about it, at other times feeling like I’ve already wasted too much time on it and should just cut my losses, and occasionally feeling an odd sense of guilt of a student who failed to complete a homework assignment. But I won’t blog about McLuhan, who did not seem to think of me as a possible audience for his writing, because it would only increase clutter, if not trash .

Instead I will point to Bill Viola, who considered the recording of everything “one of the early curses of video art.” I’m thinking now that limitless blogging, tweeting and other forms of recording every passing thought, whether worthy or not, is an early curse of digital (social) media. That said, I also understand that establishing worthiness may only be possible during or after recording, and distillation of thought and ideas can take place as part of a public recording process.

However.

As we continue to do our dance with technology, some of us more willingly than others, the importance of turning back towards ourselves, the prime mover of this technology, grows greater than the importance of any LSI circuit. […] Today, development of self must precede development of the technology or we will go nowhere […]” – I would struggle to add, but I don’t even have to look for words of my own because Bill Viola already said it in 1982.

On “As We May Think”

I am in awe of minds like Vannevar  Bush, who in 1945 foresaw that “wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.” I admire his vision and his ability to ponder complex problems with unusual clarity and practicality. It is visionaries like him who move the world forward, for better or worse. To an extent I also admire his self-confidence, his seeming lack of doubt that any ideas or inventions of his or his colleagues might not be on the right track, might not in fact “improve his food, his clothing, his shelter” and might actually lock mankind into a whole new kind of bondage after it is “released from the bondage of bare existence. “ But part of me wishes that he had some self-doubt  and some reservations about his ideas.

Last night I listened to an NPR interview with evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman (http://www.npr.org/2013/09/30/227777434/how-our-stone-age-bodies-struggle-to-stay-healthy-in-modern-times), who explained that many modern “diseases […] occur because our bodies are poorly or inadequately adapted to environments in which we now live.” To that I would add that we have created these environments, with great intentions and expectations that these environments would be better for us.

I see a similar disconnect or contradiction between what our human minds are capable of grasping and the hugely complex and interconnected world we have created. It seems that our imagination and creativity run far ahead of our physical and mental capacity to keep up with the changes we make in (and force onto?) our world. Is it in anyone’s capacity anymore to comprehend, organize and manage the world’s vast knowledge, data and information in any meaningful and comprehensive way?

Where I hope for some doubt, or humility or reservations by our society’s greatest movers and shakers is in the recognition that:

  • Any organizing scheme will be skewed by some special interest or naturally limited perspective.
  • The power and means to create organizational infrastructure(s) are in the hands of very few people, even though the impact of any such scheme is vast and inescapable for most (if not all) of the world.